Seuling on Douglas

By | Tuesday, February 15, 2022 Leave a Comment
This has been floating online for a while, but have you actually watched this? It's a ten minute clip of the Mike Douglas Show from 1977 featuring Phil Seuling, who basically founded the comic direct market. Prior to him, new comics were almost exclusively available at newsstands. Wendy Pini makes an appearance towards the end of this clip as Red Sonja as well (that's why it's posted on the official ElfQuest channel) but there's a lot of other more fascinating stuff there.
There are several things I'd like to point out here, some more obvious than others. First is the somewhat obligatory "Holy cow! He's just riffling through landmark collector issues like they were right off the shelf!" and semi-related "ONLY $1500?!?" With that out of the way, though, I'd like to point out that the stack of comics Seuling has on his lap is not insignifcant. Looks like maybe 25 books or so. But he's able to pull out issues relevant to the immediate discussion exceptionally quickly, even though they're all over the map chronologically. Which suggests to me that he's actually put some serious thought into what he wanted to say, and the order in which he wanted to say it. Or at the very least, he's got the books arranged alphabetically, knows exactly what he has with him and is able to jump through the stack so smoothly that the camera never really picks up his digging through them. Either way, he was clearly well prepared for this.

Next, listen to Jamie Farr. Farr was, of course, well known for playing Max Klinger on MASH, which had been running for about five years when this clip was filmed. That's an interesting bit of timing, I think, because Klinger's character was, at that time, still basically a one-note joke -- he wore women's clothing to try to get out of the army. Recall, of course, this is still 1977. Men in women's clothing was always played for laughs, as gender roles were pretty strictly enforced at the time. For the purposes of the show, Klinger was a clown; the more dramatic aspects of his character wouldn't really develop for another few years. But listen to what Farr says during this interview. He is surprisingly well-versed in comic history, not only pulling out the names of relatively obscure characters without even thinking about it, but he also tries to goad Seuling into talking about the legal battle between DC and Fawcett, a battle which had been over and done with for about 25 years by that point. He also makes the comparison between comics and storyboards for films.

Comics in 1977 were generally looked down upon, and I give the folks at the Mike Douglas Show a lot of credit for treating Seuling with such respect. They're surprised a grown man still reads comic books, but they don't present him as sideshow freak example of arrested development or anything. Part of that is, I suspect, because Seuling carries himself so well. He's confident, thoughtful, intelligent, well-spoken, and well-groomed. Farr is an interesting contrast in that he's almost literally falling out of his chair in excitement; there's more than a little stereotypical fanboy behavior going on. BUT, I think Farr could get away with it precisely because of his popularity as Klinger. The character, as I said, was a clown at that time and Farr could exude his real fanboyish enthusiasm for comics precisely because that culturally fell into the same category as cross-dressing on television.

I have to wonder how Farr might've reacted differently if MASH had been a few years later into the run, after Klinger gave up wearing dresses and became a more serious character. Or what Farr's agent would've said if he behaved as he did here.
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